As regular readers of The Endless Further know, I dig poetry. And when poets I appreciate have birthdays, I like to mention it, because it gives me an opportunity to share their poetry with others and perhaps introduce them to new readers.
Today is John Ashbery’s birthday. He was born in 1927 and he is an important, yet somewhat controversial, poet on the American scene. “No figure looms so large in American poetry over the past 50 years as John Ashbery,” according to Langdon Hammer, chairman of the English Department at Yale University. Ashbery is the author of more than twenty books of poetry, and served as the poet laureate of New York State from 2001 to 2003.
According to the Poetry Foundation, Ashbery’s work is controversial mainly because some readers and critics “deplore his obscurantism and insist that his poems, made up of anything and everything, can mean anything and everything.” Yet, as Nicholas Jenkins once wrote in the New York Times Book Review, Ashbery’s work “appeals not because it offers wisdom in a packaged form, but because the elusiveness and mysterious promise of his lines remind us that we always have a future and a condition of meaningfulness to start out toward.”
I’m not sure what, if any, connection Ashbery has with Buddhism, but two of his poems are included in an 1979 anthology titled Zero: Contemporary Buddhist Life and Thought, Vol III that also featured works by John Cage, Leonard Cohen, Allen Ginsberg, and Joni Mitchell.
Here is a short poem I found on Ashbery’s homepage at SUNY Buffalo’s Electronic Poetry Center:
At North Farm
Somewhere someone is traveling furiously toward you,
At incredible speed, traveling day and night,
Through blizzards and desert heat, across torrents, through narrow passes.
But will he know where to find you,
Recognize you when he sees you,
Give you the thing he has for you?
Hardly anything grows here,
Yet the granaries are bursting with meal,
The sacks of meal piled to the rafters.
The streams run with sweetness, fattening fish;
Birds darken the sky. Is it enough
That the dish of milk is set out at night,
That we think of him sometimes,
Sometimes and always, with mixed feelings?
- – – – – – – – – -
That was the poetry, now the bombs:
Sunday, in a coordinated terror attack, nine bomb blasts rocked Bodh Gaya, the site where the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment. The explosions were set off inside the Mahabodhi temple complex.
In addition to housing a number of temples, Bodh Gaya also features the Bodhi Tree that Gautama sat under during his night of awakening. Actually, it’s not the original tree but a “direct descendant planted in 288 BC from the original specimen,” and is located next to the Mahabodhi Temple. I have a leaf from the tree that sits on my altar.
The Mahabodhi temple itself did not have extensive damage, but Vilsagga, age 30, a student monk from Burma, and Tenzing Dorjee, 60, from the Ningma Tibetan monastery, who were both meditating near the Bodhi tree, suffered serious injuries.
According to CNN, “While no one took responsibility for the attack, suspicion fell on the home-grown Islamist group Indian Mujahideen . . . designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, is blamed for dozens of deadly bomb explosions throughout India since 2005.”